History of Provincial Grand Chapter
Original by E.Comp. J. A. St. M. Mallin, P.G.St.B.
Subsequent amendments by E.Comp. I. M. Fothergill, P.A.G.Soj..
The origins of the Royal Arch is a subject of much debate, but there is evidence to support the fact that it was known in London, York and Dublin as early as the 1730’s. Lodge Minute Books of the 1750’s show that it was being worked as part of the Third Degree within Craft Lodges under both the Premier and the Antients Grand Lodges in England, Scotland and Ireland.
Problems arose when the Moderns (Premier) decided that the degree was being performed unofficially and without the sanction of the Premier Grand Lodge. This led to the formation of separate Royal Arch Chapters working under the Banner of a specified Lodge which eventually led to the Charter of Compact being signed in 1766. This led to the formation of the Grand and Royal Chapter of the Royal Arch of Jerusalem. This was the direct parent of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons that we recognise today.
The solemn Act of Union of 1813 declared that The Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem was to be a part of pure Antient Freemasonry but organised as a separate Order, distinct from the Craft degrees to which it belongs and the teaching it completes.
Worcestershire is a thriving and buoyant Royal Arch Province where some 1,000 Companions conduct their activities in 40 Chapters meeting at 12 different venues in the Province.
The term Province is merely the Masonic term for a County that in most cases correspond in area to the traditional historic Counties. Thus in Worcestershire, our venues range from Dudley in the north to Evesham in the south, Tenbury Wells in the west and Redditch in the east. In each of its 12 venues, Royal Arch masonry provides fulfilment to the teachings provided by its sister order, the Craft, to whom it is indissolubly linked and for whom it provides an inspiring fulfilment.
The website of the Craft Province of Worcestershire introduces the early history of freemasonry in this Province. It records how freemasonry came into its current Provincial form in 1851 with the appointment of Henry Vernon as Provincial Grand Master. Two years later he was appointed to lead the Royal Arch in Worcestershire and was installed to the Royal Arch’s equivalent office of Grand Superintendent.
For many years there were only seven Craft Lodges in Worcestershire - Clive (subsequently renamed Vernon), Harmonic, Hope & Charity, Royal Standard, Stability, Worcester, and Semper Fidelis. They were supported by two Royal Arch Chapters - Dudley Chapter attached to Harmonic Lodge and St. Wulstan’s Chapter attached to Worcester Lodge. For the next 100 years, growth was slow, but gradual. The earliest most active decade was the 1920s which saw five new chapters consecrated, perhaps as demobilised servicemen sought new social activities.
At the end of the Second World War, there were half the number of Chapters that we have today. The strong growth period came in the 1950s to 1970s. This can be attributed to two social factors. Firstly during the time of National Service, as earlier in the 1920s, freemasonry proved an attractive vehicle through which servicemen could continue or re-start a worthwhile interest and social life.
Secondly, this was a time perhaps when there were far fewer social outlets that could compete for an individual’s attention. It was the time when for many, Freemasons and Non-Freemasons, the Lodge or Chapter Ladies’ night was the annual highlight of the social calendar.
The intimate connection between the Craft and Royal Arch is illustrated by the fact that the Grand Master in the Craft traditionally holds the equivalent Royal Arch office of First Grand Principal. This has frequently been mirrored at the Provincial level in Worcestershire with nine Provincial Grand Masters also being appointed to the equivalent Royal Arch office of Grand Superintendent. When E.Comp. F.H. Griffiths, Grand Superintendent from 1963-82 was appointed Provincial Grand Master in 1973; the holding of the two offices by one individual remained the Provincial tradition until 2004.
By 2004, the Craft and Royal Arch had grown to the extent that it was considered worthwhile for the Orders to have distinct but closely co-operating leadership. E.Comp. Richard Price was appointed as Grand Superintendent in 2004 and in 2010 E.Comp. Colin Brown succeeded him as Grand Superintendent.
The desire to strengthen Royal Arch Chapters continued and several Initiatives were introduced to seek to encourage the low percentage of Master Masons who are completing the journey through Antient Freemasonry. Much work was done to build on the success of The Grand Superintendent’s representatives to lodges, a letter from the Grand Superintendent and Provincial Grand Master given to Master Masons when receiving their Grand Lodge certificate that encourages them to complete their Masonic journey into Chapter.
The Grand Superintendent launched a Provincial Demonstration Team who delivered the “Talking Heads’” presentation to Craft Masons in their Lodges, together with an explanatory presentation about the Royal Arch to non-Exalted Master Masons being invited into Chapters. Enthusing and educating the Exalted Companion became a priority. Each being given a copy of the Peterborough booklet about the Royal Arch, as well as a specially written guide that introduces the nuances and characteristics of Worcestershire.
During this period an established Provincial Chapter of Instruction/Improvement, under the guidance of the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, was established to provide a full demonstration and explanation of the Worcestershire Workings of both an Exaltation and Installation Ceremony.
The Worcestershire Installed First Principals’ Chapter successfully increased attendance by encouraging the newer Companions to its educational talks at its November meetings. The most popular annual event continued to be the coach trip to the appointments and promotions Annual Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter in April, which is always followed by a most convivial dinner back in the Midlands.
Unfortunately the MEGS, E. Comp. Colin Brown was forced to retire on medical grounds at the end of 2018, so his Deputy, E. Comp. John Michael Phenix, became the Deputy Grand Superintendent in Charge with effect from 1st January 2019.
There is no doubt that during Colin Brown's tenure the Royal Arch in Worcestershire had gone from strength to strength. We saw the establishment of a very good Provincial Web site and the introduction of a Quarterly Newsletter, "Worcestershire Second Risings" both to stimulate greater interest and provide a membership wide communications links.
In April E. Comp. John Phenix was duly Installed as the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent over and in the Province of Worcestershire at an excellent ceremony in the College Hall at Kings School, Worcester, conducted by the Second Provincial Grand Principal, E. Comp. Russel John Race. John in turn then appointed, obligated and invested Michael Dexter Cox as his Deputy, reconfirmed the appointment of Alfred John Yeates as Second and appointed, obligated and invested Barry John Griffin as Third Provincial Grand Principals.
E. Comp. John has continued the ethos of encouragement, team building, communication and development of both the Order and its members.
2020 - To date
On the 17th March 2020 the severity of the outbreak of COVID - 19 led to the Government declaring a National Lockdown, meaning the couintry came to a grinding halt. A partial re-opening occured in September, under what became known as the "Rule of 6." The MEGS therefore decided that the 2020 Provincial AGM would be held under that Rule at Kidderminster Masonic Hall where all the necessary administrative requiremnents including the confirmation of Honours was conducted. It also meant that the Third Provincial Grand Principal, E. Comp. B. J. Griffin, P.G.Std.B was re-appointed in that role.
In 2021 the Annual Convocation took place at Freemasons Hall, Kings Heath with a limited attendance.
In 2022 the AGM was held for the final time in the Avon Suite at Birmingham University and in 2023 moved back to Freemasons Hall, Kings Heath which has now been deemed as the regular meeting place for the Annual General Meeting.
Original by E.Comp. J. A. St. M. Mallin, P.G.St.B.
Subsequent amendments by E.Comp. I. M. Fothergill, PAGSoj..